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  • With the release of the Downton Abbey Movie in the Autumn, we’re seeing a renewed interest in all things Downton – so what better way to start the festive season than with a nostalgic look back at some of the fantastic locations which helped to make this programme so loved around the world. Any of these sites can easily fit in to one of our self-drive trips!

    Highclere Castle, Berkshire

    The obvious starting point is Downton Abbey itself, Highclere Castle. This impressive Victorian castle - with over 1,000 acres of surrounding parkland - sits in the heart of Berkshire, and is the real life home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, whose family have lived here since 1679.

    As well as seeing plenty of easily recognisable interior shots (most of the ‘upstairs’ scenes where filmed here) and taking in the classic exterior view, you can also view artefacts and treasures of the Carnarvon family, including some particularly interesting ancient Egyptian relics.

    Highclere Castle is open for 60 to 70 days each year: two weeks over Easter; each of the May Bank holidays; two months (Sunday to Thursday) over the summer months, and a few days in early December. Advance booking is recommended.

    Bampton, Cotswolds

    The village in the programme is actually set in the village of Bampton, in the quintessentially English countryside of the Cotswolds (you may be forgiven for thinking this village would be in Yorkshire as that is where the Downton estate is supposed to be!) and is home to a number of recognisable locations that were used for filming.

    Filming locations you’ll find in Bampton include: the post office; Churchgate House, which is used as Isobel Crawley’s home; Church View, which houses the fictional pubs The Grantham Arms and The Dog & Duck, and also St. Mary’s church – one of the key locations for many of Downton’s most dramatic moments. You can also visit the Bampton Community Archive in the Old Grammar School, which serves as the Downton hospital in several episodes, where you can pick up a variety of Downton related information and souvenirs.

    Swinbrook, Cotswolds

    The village of Swinbrook, also in the beautiful Cotswolds countryside, became a filming location for Downton Abbey in Season 2, where The Swan Inn was the secret meeting location for Lady Sybil and Branson, her chauffeur, to plan their elopement.

    Cogges Farm, Cotswolds

    Also found in the Cotswolds, once a working farm and now a heritage centre, Cogges Manor Farm is better known as Yew Tree Farm in Downton Abbey. The farm has appeared in several series, first under the tenancy of Mr Drewe and later the new farm of Mr Mason.

    Cogges Manor Farm is a beautifully preserved collection of Cotswold stone farm buildings set in its own grounds. The site has been farmed since before the Domesday Book and parts of the manor house date back to the Thirteenth Century. Now you can enjoy the historic farmyard, feed the animals, explore the manor house and grounds, as well as stop for some refreshments at the excellent Cogges café!

    Lacock, Wiltshire

    With its cobbled streets and cosy stone cottages, the National Trust village of Lacock has been a favourite filming location for decades, not least for Downton Abbey! It’s here that the exterior of Carson’s cottage was filmed, and it forms a perfect backdrop to the royal parade in the Downton Abbey movie.

    While there, make sure you don’t miss out on the 13th century Lacock Abbey, a quirky country house of various architectural styles, built upon the foundations of a former nunnery. The entrance ticket to the Abbey also includes the Fox Talbot Museum of Photography.

    Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

    Northumberland’s Alnwick Castle starred as the magnificent Brancaster Castle in two Christmas specials of Downton Abbey. The first episode featuring the castle saw the Crawley family attend Lord Sinderby’s shooting party. The State Rooms inside the castle provided a spectacular backdrop for a number of scenes, and the episode highlighted the grounds of the castle and the nearby Hulne Abbey, nestled in the Northumberland countryside.

    In 2015, the State Rooms once again were used, this time in the final-ever episode of Downton Abbey, setting the scene for an emotional finale. Additional filming also took place on the ramparts of the castle, in Bow Alley and St. Michael’s Church Hall nearby, which you can also see on a visit to Alnwick.

    As well as Downton, the castle is no stranger to hosting film crews - it most recently featured in Transformers: The Last Knight, it featured as Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films, and appeared in Elizabeth and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

    Inveraray Castle, Scottish Highlands

    Duneagle Castle was the location for Rose Aldridge and her parents, the MacClares, to escape for the weekend in season 3 in the episode ‘A Journey to the Highlands’. The gothic Inveraray Castle in the Scottish Highlands stood in as Duneagle Castle, as well providing the backdrop to the exterior fishing and stalking scenes.

    The Scottish scenes opened with the Grantham party arriving at the castle, to be welcomed on the original front steps of the castle, before going into the Armoury Hall. The West Highland’s spectacular hills, lochs and glens are all on show throughout the episode.

    As the real-life home to the Duke of Argyll, the castle boasts beautiful manicured gardens and opulently decorated rooms that hold everything from ceramics and paintings to antiquities. The castle has a really imposing location on the banks of Loch Fyne, and about 40 miles from Oban.

    If you want help planning a self-drive trip around Britain (that could take in some of these spots!), please do not hesitate to get in touch.

  • The beautiful scenery (and the eponymously named cheese!) is often the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about Wensleydale, one of the most well-known areas of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Gorgeous open views, the meandering river Ure, babbling waterfalls and idyllic stone villages all combine make this part of the country so unique. But you may not know that it is also home to two impressive castles with fascinating histories, meaning a day out here has something for everyone! Here we have a closer look at a couple of the castles that can be found in this magnificent Dale.

    Middleham CastleMiddleham Castle

    Tucked away in the picturesque village of Middleham, on the eastern edge of the dale (strictly speaking, it’s just outside the National Park boundary), the imposing ruins and fascinating history of Middleham Castle come as something of a surprise.

    The first written records for a castle at Middleham date from 1216 but the remains of an even earlier castle survive to the south of the present castle, on the site known as William’s Hill. It was probably built in about 1086 and the earthworks can easily be reached from a public footpath behind the castle.

    The castle we see today was begun sometime in the late 12th century, and the great Norman keep (one of the largest in the country) was probably built in the 1170s. The most fascinating period in the castle’s long history is during the mid-fifteenth century at the time of the Wars of the Roses. The castle was developed under the powerful Neville family, and it became the powerhouse of Northern England (with Middleham subsequently known as the ‘Windsor of the North’).

    Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) spent much of his youth at Middleham and, following his marriage to Anne Neville, he effectively ruled the north from Middleham while his brother, Edward IV, was on the throne, before becoming king himself following Edward’s death (and the disappearance of his sons and heirs, the ‘princes in the tower’).

    The ruins of Middleham Castle sit on the village edge and are in the ownership of English Heritage. You can look around the ruins, climb one of the towers for great views of the surrounding area, and learn more on the history of the castle. The little museum through the entrance also proudly holds a replica of the so-called ‘Middleham Jewel’ – a beautifully engraved 15th century amulet discovered near the castle in 1985 by a metal-detectorist. The jewel is a wonderful example of a London goldsmith’s work of about 1450–75 and it is thought may have belonged to is Anne Beauchamp, widow of ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’ and mother-in-law of Richard III.

    Getting there: There’s no car park at the castle but free on-street parking is available in Middleham. Postcode DL8 4QG. An adult ticket costs £6 (or free for English Heritage overseas pass holders).

    Bolton CastleBolton Castle

    600-year-old Bolton Castle sits high above Wensleydale, with gorgeous views down the valley. Still in the private ownership of Lord Bolton (the direct descendant of the castle’s original owner Sir Richard le Scrope), who lives just down the valley in the impressive Bolton Hall, the well preserved castle tells the fascinating history of this fortress and home.

    The castle provides beautiful views from both inside and the garden, where displays of medieval activities regularly take place, including archery, falconry and hawk and owl displays (as well as feeding with wild boar!).

    Bolton Castle's most famous moment in history came in 1568, when Mary, Queen of Scots, was imprisoned here during Elizabeth I’s reign after her escape from Scotland. The range of chambers in the south-west tower where she is thought to have lived have been arranged to reflect what they would have looked like during her ‘stay’ in the castle.

    The end for Bolton Castle came during the Civil War, when John Scrope, the owner of the time, held the castle for the Royalist cause. Parliamentarians besieged the castle for an entire year, and in November 1645 Scrope was forced to surrender (apparently after the garrison had been reduced to eating their own horses to survive starvation!). Parliament intended to destroy the castle to make it unusable in future, but the south-west tower and the west range survived almost completely intact and habitable, leaving the beautiful medieval castle that we can enjoy today.

    Below the castle walls is a recreation of a medieval garden. This has been extended to include a maze, rose garden, herb garden, honey bees and a small vineyard. Also in the area, immediately opposite the castle entrance is the beautiful medieval parish church, and the charming village of Castle Bolton, which is full of lovely traditional Dales’ cottages.

    Getting there: Open between mid- February to the end of October. There’s a large car park on site – postcode DL8 4ET. Adult tickets costs £9.00.

    If you’ve been inspired to explore some of England’s historic castles, please get in touch and we can put together your own personal itinerary to take in some of these fantastic sights.

  • The UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites is an internationally renowned classification, which identifies places of importance to cultural or natural heritage. Earlier this year, Jodrell Bank Observatory, in rural north-west England, became Great Britain’s latest addition to the UNESCO list. We think they do a pretty good job of picking out some key sites for your self-drive trip in Great Britain! Broadly travelling from north to south, here are ten of our favourite UNESCO sites:

    Central Edinburgh1. Edinburgh Old & New Town

    Scotland’s capital is a city of two halves, but each is as compelling as the other. Simply wandering the steep, narrow lanes of the medieval Old Town and strolling through the wide crescents and gardens of the elegant Georgian New Town is a highlight of any visit. The Old Town is topped-and-tailed by two of Scotland’s greatest historic assets – imposing Edinburgh Castle and the grand Palace of Holyrood House.

    2. Frontiers of the Roman Empire

    Hadrian's WallBuilt as a barrier between the ‘civilised’ Roman Empire to the south and the ‘marauding Scots’ to the North, Hadrian’s Wall is testament to Roman ambition and engineering skills. Several long sections of the wall remain fully intact and the remains of forts and ‘milecastles’, while in the most part reduced to foundations, provide a huge amount of information about the lives of soldiers and the communities that sprang up around them at this remote northern outpost. The wall crosses dramatic, stark Northumberland scenery, making the sites all the more atmospheric and a great place to stretch the legs.

    The picturesque and historic city of Durham is also easily visited when in this area, and is home to one of Britain’s most impressive cathedrals (another UNESCO World Heritage Site!) and an enticing tangle of cobbled streets running down to the river. Durham’s other famous site, its Castle, stands across the square from the cathedral and is now a college building for the city’s renowned university.

    3. The Lake District

    View from Cat Bells, Lake District

    Added to the UNESCO list in 2017, the towering mountains, glistening lakes, pretty villages, classic pubs and fascinating literary connections all combine to make the Lake District a favourite stop on any tour of England. The stunning scenery makes it a top walking destination, with options for all levels, from tough mountain hikes to gentle lakeside strolls.
    Traditional slate villages with winding lanes, country cottages and inviting pubs and cafes are found throughout the area. Simply driving between them over the winding mountain passes can be a great way to see the Lake District.

    4. Studley Royal Park and the Ruins of Fountains Abbey

    The ruins of 12th century Fountain’s Abbey sit in the beautiful Victorian gardens of Studley Royal Park. Left to ruin after Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, the abbey, situated in what was a remote and inaccessible valley, retains a feel of peace and tranquillity. The fascinating history of the abbey is told in the onsite visitor centre.

    Blenhiem Palace5. Blenhiem Palace

    Undoubtedly one of the country’s finest stately homes. Sir Winston Churchill was born here and there is a very interesting exhibition in the house about his life. You can learn more about the palace and its incredible collections by joining a guided tour of the State Rooms (which leave every 20 minutes or so). Leave plenty of time to explore the grounds and gardens landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. While there, take the opportunity to visit the small Cotswolds town of Woodstock, a short stroll out of Blenheim's grounds.

    6. Tower of London

    Tower of LondonA building with one of the most fascinating histories of any in the world. Royal palace, fort, prison and place of execution, the Tower has witnessed many of the most significant events in English history. It remains home to the Crown Jewels as well as the famous ‘Beefeaters’, who conduct tours of the tower.

    7. Maritime Greenwich

    This lovely area of east London combines three excellent sites: the Old Royal Naval College, Royal Observatory, and the recently reopened Cutty Sark. The large park is also a great place for a stroll or a picnic on a sunny day.

    8. Stonehenge, Avebury and associated sites

    StonehengeAny visit to Wiltshire (and even the UK) often seems incomplete without stopping at this iconic site which is probably one of the most recognisable monuments in the world. Stonehenge is a ring of 5000 year old standing stones set within earthworks which became a World Heritage Site in 1986. It understandably receives the highest number of visitors in the region. With much mystery still surrounding Stonehenge, the new visitor centre provides a lot of information and interesting exhibitions.

    Wiltshire’s other most recognisable stone circle, Avebury, forms part of the World Heritage Site with Stonehenge and is actually older and, for many, more atmospheric, than its more famous neighbour. Make time to wander amongst the stones of the inner circle and the great outer circle, take a walk to the largest man-made mound in Europe (Silbury Hill), offering lovely views of the surrounding country, and explore the ‘West Kennett Long Barrow’. Avebury Manor also makes a great stop with lovely gardens and tea room.

    9. City of Bath

    Wandering around the crescents and gardens it is easy to see why Bath has UNESCO protected status. Bath is also the only place in the UK where you can bathe in naturally hot spa water, which has made it a popular spa break destination for thousands of years! The city offers some of the finest architectural sights in Europe, including the Roman Baths & Pump Room, England’s most complete Georgian and Regency architecture and a stunning medieval abbey. You will certainly not be disappointed if you are looking for somewhere to eat - Bath has a wonderful array of award winning restaurants and welcoming pubs.

    Copper mine on Cornish coast10. Mining Landscape of Cornwall & West Devon

    From 1700 to 1914, the metal mining industry (mainly copper and tin) played a vital role in providing essential raw materials to feed the Industrial Revolution. Mining relics and sites can be found all along the coast. The area around St Agnes is particularly rich in mines. For TV fans, Owles and Crowns mines near Botallack starred as Ross Poldark's Wheal Leisure in the popular series.

    We hope that these places have inspired you to explore some of Britain and, if you would like some help planning a self-drive trip, please do get in touch.

  • The summer holidays are in full swing and we have been having some scorching temperatures (albeit mixed with some pretty heavy downpours!). If you need somewhere to cool off, here are some of our top tips on where to take a dip in the great outdoors.

    Remember that wild swimming comes with risks, particularly when water is very cold. It is always done at your own risk and should never be done alone!

    Swimming in Loughrigg Tarn1. Loughrigg Tarn

    The Lake District is, unsurprisingly, the top spot in England for finding idyllic wild swimming spots and there are loads of options. One of our favourites is Loughrigg tarn close to Elterwater. A gorgeous spot that is easy to get to; the water warms up nicely on hot days, and access into the tarn is straightforward.

    You can park at Skelwith Bridge and walk up the steep hill (which has the benefit of allowing you to pick up a picnic at the excellent Chester’s!) or grab one of the roadside parking spots close to the tarn.

    2. Cauldron Force, West BurtonCauldren Force, West Burton

    The charming Yorkshire Dales village of West Burton has the added attraction of a pretty waterfall, tucked away from the green in its own mini amphitheatre at the bottom of the village.

    Although only small, the pool at the base of the main falls is a great place for a dip – deep enough for a proper swim and you can climb up the rocks to get an exhilarating soaking from the waterfall itself. Just downstream past the packhorse bridge there is another deep spot where the more adventurous can jump off the rocks into the pool!

    3. The River Wye, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire

    Tudor Farmhouse HotelThere are plenty of spots along the gorgeous River Wye that lend themselves to a refreshing dip. The stretch from Lower Lydbrook to Yat Rock is a great place to start - a beautiful bend in the river with easy places to get in and out and a good chance of spotting some wildlife while you swim – buzzards, kestrels, peregrine falcons and kingfishers are all a possibility.

    The charming Tudor Farmhouse hotel in the Forest of Dean (pictured) is well located for exploring lots of sections of the river and can provide plenty of information about the best spots to try for your interests and ability.

    Loch Etive4. Glen Etive, Scotland

    A side valley to the ever-popular Glen Coe, Glen Etive has a dead end road running along its length, meaning crowds are kept to a minimum and there are plenty of quiet spots to pull in for a refreshing dip in the inviting River Etive.

    Wild camping is also popular in the glen so the adventurous can pitch up and spend the night under the stars (just remember to clear up after yourselves and take all rubbish away with you).

    5. Golitha Falls, Cornwall

    Cornwall is, of course, more well known for beautiful beaches and swimming in the sea, but it also has some great inland spots for river swimming.

    Golitha Falls is a beautiful stretch of the River Fowey through ancient oak woodland on Bodmin Moor with an easy to follow path and nice spots for a picnic. The best place for a swim is the plunge pool at the bottom of the falls, but be careful of slippy rocks and don’t go in after heavy rain.

    Fowey EstuaryAt the other end of the River Fowey you reach the classic Cornish seaside town of Fowey which also offers good swimming options in the estuary and nearby beaches as well as lots of places for food and drinks.

    If you would like any more information or would like help arranging a self-drive holiday in Britain, please do get in touch.

  • Britain is famous around the world for its pubs and the mention of one often conjures up the image of roaring fires, cosy corners and flagstone floors but, while settling in in front of a fire on a cold day is undoubtedly a quintessentially British experience, the summer months give you the chance to experience the other typically British side to the pub – the beer garden!

    There are hundreds of places around the country that offer the opportunity to sit outside with a pint enjoying the sunshine, the views or just watching the world go by.

    Here are some of our personal favourite spots for an al fresco pint.

    Isis Farmhouse, OxfordIsis Farmhouse, Oxford

    Oxford is home to a wide range of excellent pubs and an unusual number of great beer gardens (the Perch, the Fishes and the Trout could all easily feature on this list) but our favourite is the Isis Farmhouse.

    A short walk along the river from the centre of town, this pub feels more countryside than city and the huge beer garden right on the banks of the Thames is hard to beat. Sitting with a pint on a summer’s afternoon watching boats potter up and down is a real treat. Inside has a rustic feel but is more casual café-bar and music venue than old-school pub. The weekly Sunday live music and several ‘festival’ style events add to this vibe.

    The Square and Compass, Dorset

    Square and Compass. DorsetSet just back from Dorset’s stunning Jurassic Coast, this quirky pub is something of an institution. Specialising in homemade cider and offering only simple pies and pasties as sustenance to reward you for clambering up the hill from the beach (also accessible by car!) the stunning beer garden makes the effort worthwhile.

    Solid stone tables and benches scatter the large grassy area in front of the charming slate roofed inn and offer incredible views over Dorset’s rolling hills to the sea.

    Stickle Barn, Great Langdale, Cumbria

    There are few things better than a pint in the sunshine with views of the hills after working up a thirst hiking in the stunning Lake District.

    Stickle Barn offers the perfect spot – the only pub run by the National Trust, Stickle Barn sits in the Great Langdale Valley at the start of one of the areas most popular (and beautiful) walks; up the Langdale Pikes. After making it up and down the steep route, the pub is a very welcome sight and the good selection of food and beers is complemented by a large beer garden with views along the valley and to the surrounding fells. Fire pits keep the cold off on cooler days.

    The Ship Inn, Porthleven, Cornwall

    Ship Inn, Porthleven, CornwallThe charming harbour town of Porthleven on Cornwall’s south coast seems to get a lot less attention than some of its more well-known neighbours, but has all the traditional Cornish charm and less of the crowds.

    The Ship Inn sits right at the edge of the harbour and is exactly the sort of place you can picture smugglers settling in after landing a haul! The cosy interior is full of character but the unusual beer garden adds something extra. As the pub is tucked into the hillside, the garden is a series of terraces on different levels with picnic tables tucked between pretty plants and offering views both over the boats bobbing in the harbour and out to sea.

    The Applecross Inn, Applecross, Wester Ross

    Applecross Inn, HighlandsIn the village of Applecross on the remote Applecross peninsula on Scotland’s stunning west coast, it is, not surprisingly, the views that are the real winner here. The beer garden itself is just a simple handful of benches on the street outside the inn and on a patch of grass across the road, but it is hard to imagine a better setting. Close enough to the coast to hear the sea lapping on the shore, the view stretches across the Sound of Raasay to the mountains of the Isle of Skye.

    The friendly inn offers a wide range of drinks, an interesting menu with a big focus on local produce, and the excellent Scottish seafood features heavily. If you can’t tear yourself away, there are also 8 bedrooms of varying sizes.

    London

    The idea of the perfect beer garden usually conjures up images of open grassy spaces or stunning countryside views, but nowhere in Britain is having a drink outside more popular than the capital and there are lots of great options. The weather only has to be vaguely reasonable and you will find Londoners packing terraces and pouring out onto the pavements with their drinks.

    Our favourite place for al fresco drinking is Exmouth Market in Farringdon where several bars line the mostly pedestrian street all with outside tables, providing a lively, sociable atmosphere and an opportunity for some easy bar hopping! Most serve a wide variety of craft beers and other drinks as well as good food. A quick game of table football at long-standing Café Kick is a must!

    For something a bit fancy, treat yourself to a glass of champagne in the rooftop garden at Coq D’Argent in the City of London.

    If you want help planning a self-drive trip around Britain (that could take in some of these spots!), do not hesitate to get in touch.

  • About my Blog

    On this blog, I am going to share some of my favourite things about Britain – taking beautiful country walks, trying out classic british pubs, exploring castles, palaces and stately homes, getting involved in some uniquely British experiences and events and much more. I hope that this blog will whet your appetite for a trip of a lifetime in Britain.

    Helen Coppin
    Founder, Great British Escapes

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